School Notes: Windsor Native’s Film Script Explores Bullying

  • Don Miller appears in a scene from "If I Could Run," a film based on his experiences with bullying as a Windsor High School student in the late 1950s. The film screens in Windsor this week. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Preslee Bishop and Ethan Rhoad, right, appear in a scene from "If I Could Run," a film set at Windsor High School in the 1950s. Rhoad is senior at Windsor; Bishop is a professional actor. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, February 05, 2018

The way many of us let report cards and term papers and old textbooks sink deeper into file cabinets and boxes in the attic, Donald Miller buried his memories of the bullying he endured at Windsor High School in the late 1950s.

Then last spring, Texas-based filmmaker Shawn Welling asked Miller, who had acted in and written music for one of Welling’s previous movie projects, to write a screenplay based on the obstacles he overcame.

Less than a year later, Miller and Welling this week will be screening the 82-minute feature If I Could Run at Windsor High School’s Lois White Theatre — on Thursday night for the public and on Friday morning for students in grades 5 to 12 of the Windsor Schools.

“Before I started writing, I spoke into a tape recorder, telling myself the story over again, talking right from my heart,” Miller, a 1960 graduate of Windsor High, recalled last week. “When I was a freshman and a sophomore, I really got picked on a lot. They didn’t call it bullying then. Remembering all that was hard at first, but it was a good way to work through a lot of things.”

After a rewrite turned the main character into a female distance runner, Welling shot the movie in and around Windsor over three days in August and eight in October, stationing 1950s-era cars at locations ranging from Miller’s farm and the Windsor High track to the Windsor Diner and Paradise Park.

In addition to professional actors Preslee Bishop as the protagonist Kelly Johnson and Welling’s white golden retriever, Ranger, as Kelly’s boon companion, the cast includes Windsor High senior Ethan Rhoad as the bully Josh, Windsor Police Department school resource officer Jen Frank as a local police officer and Miller as Kelly’s future husband, recounting his late wife’s struggle to their bullied granddaughter. Windsor High sophomore Aria Kelly plays the granddaughter. The soundtrack includes popular music of the era

“It’s amazing how I wrote it last May, and then watched the whole thing come to life, with all these wonderful people,” Miller said. “I’m so glad we’re playing it at the school. The topic is so timely.”

Moviegoers on Thursday and Friday get to meet the cast, including Ranger, who like Bishop, Rhoad and Miller performed in Welling’s previous movie If I Could Speak.

“Ranger has got the gift,” Miller said. “He’s the nicest dog you’d ever want to meet. He knows when he’s acting, and when he’s done, he becomes like a regular dog.”

Miller, who ran arcades at New Hampshire’s Weirs Beach and Hampton Beach for 15 years after returning to New England from Florida, said that his collaborations with Welling also have helped him recover from the grief of losing a son in a plane crash in the early 1980s.

“Projects like this keep my body and my mind busy,” he concluded. “Hopefully I can keep going till I drop dead.”

Windsor resident Donald Miller and director Shawn Welling host a screening of If I Could Run at the Windsor Schools’ Lois White Theatre on Thursday night at 6:30. A reception, which Ranger the dog and the rest of the cast will attend, precedes the screening at 5:30. Admission is free. To view a trailer and learn more, visit wellingfilms.com.

The Write Stuff

Woodstock High School sophomore Marjorie Parker wrote the winning entry and Hanover High School junior Oliver Minshall placed third among almost 600 Vermonters competing in U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ annual State of the Union Essay Contest.

Writing on the topic of the issues they’d take on if elected president, Parker pointed to the need to prevent institutional discrimination against minorities, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer citizens.

“If we truly want to be an example of an accepting country,” she wrote, “we have to be able to step up and protect our fellow citizens.”

In his third-place essay, Minshall decried “the pernicious scourge of income inequality” in the U.S. economy.

“This is not just a moral problem but a threat to the future of American democracy,” he wrote. “... Citizens have so little economic power (and therefore influence), their views do not have any practical effect on policymaking.”

Sanders hosted the authors of the top 20 essays, chosen by a judging panel of seven Vermont educators, on Saturday at the Statehouse in Montpelier. The senator will submit the essays of Parker, Minshall and the runner-up, St. Johnsbury Academy senior Alaura Rich, to the Congressional Record.

Springfield, Vt., High School student Sofia Gulik will compete with young writers from around the United States for $30,000 in college scholarship money, in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Voice of Democracy Essay Contest.

Writing on the theme of “American History: Our Hope for the Future,” Gulik received a $1,000 scholarship for penning the winning essay in the Vermont VFW contest in January.

To learn about entering the 2019 contest, visit vfw.org/community.

By Degrees

Lebanon native Alexandra Astwood graduated from Ithaca College with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, during the December 2017 commencement at the upstate New York school.

Collegiate Recognition

Woodstock resident Emma McLiverty, South Royalton’s Jocelyn Hewitt, Plainfield’s Chase McGough and Grantham’s Otto Bonk were named to the dean’s list for the fall semester at Ithaca (N.Y.) College.

Randolph resident Kaitlyn Sargent earned a place on the dean’s list at the State University of New York at Albany, for her academic performance during the fall 2017 semester.

Fourteen Upper Valley residents earned spots on the dean’s list at Norwich University, in Northfield, Vt., for their academic performance during the fall semester:

Hartford — Tabitha Clews and Michaela Curley.

North Pomfret — Benjamin Beaudoin and Kyle Hansen.

Hartland — David Hampton, Isabella Leister and Timothy Alibozek.

Lebanon — Vanessa Fleury.

Norwich — Elizabeth Leighton.

Thetford Center — Molly Higgins and Shyann Josler.

Sharon — Brooke Higgins and Jenny Sweet-McDonnell.

Brownsville — Danielle Simino.

Sunapee residents Erika Waterman and Jack Weinberger, Lebanon’s Heather King and Springfield, Vt.’s Meghan Thomas were named to the dean’s list at Springfield College for their academic performance during the fall 2017 semester at the western Massachusetts school.

Lebanon resident Megan Mason and Sharon’s Jocelyn Johnson earned places on the dean’s list at Nichols College, in Dudley, Mass., for their academic performance during the fall semester.

New London resident Elise Paquette, Springfield, N.H.’s Michael Salo and Charlestown’s Brandon Perkins, all freshmen, earned the designation of Presidential Scholar at Clarkson University, in Potsdam, N.Y., for maintaining grade-point averages of 3.8 or better out of a possible 4.0 during the fall semester.

Upper Valley residents making Clarkson’s dean’s list, with GPAs of between 3.25 and 3.79, were Newporters Jeremy Dewey and Jacob Merritt, Grantham’s Rachel Barden and Austin Glein, and Springfield, N.H.’s Brandon Butcher.

The University of Alabama recently named Windsor resident Brooke Winter to its dean’s list for the fall semester.

Grantham resident Colette Schmidt, Plainfield’s Joshua Young and Springfield, Vt.’s Samantha Metcalf made the fall semester dean’s list at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

Lasell College in Newton, Mass., named six Upper Valley residents to its dean’s list for the fall semester.

Making the grade were Lebanon residents Kara Hemenway and Zachary Greger, Fairlee’s Dakota Menard, Tunbridge’s Katherine Elderd, Newport’s Zachary Brown and Charlestown’s Leah Shaw.

Hartland resident Elizabeth Bassette was named to the dean’s honors list for the fall semester at Cedarville University in Ohio.

Rhodes College in Tennessee recently named Hanover resident Kristin B. Reed to its honor roll for the fall semester.

Hanover residents Marie Pillsbury and Seamus Good earned spots on the dean’s list at Muhlenberg College, in Allentown, Pa., for the fall semester.

The State University of New York at Oswego named Windsor resident Grady Gilman to its fall semester dean’s list.

Claremont resident Coby Hussey was named to the dean’s list at Becker College in Worcester, Mass.

Wisconsin Lutheran College recently named Haverhill resident Nikita Duling to its fall dean’s list.

Claremont resident Alyson Lizotte earned a place on the fall dean’s list at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y.

High School Honors

Citing the example she sets in and out of the classroom, Lebanon High School named senior Julie Barber as its student of the month for February.

Barber, who returned to school in a wheelchair after undergoing surgery for and rehabilitation from a cancerous tumor on her spine, is “fully engaged in learning … and volunteers to put herself out there,” according to the school’s announcement of the award. Barber’s extra-curricular activities include helping to coach the varsity girls lacrosse team.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

Education-related news and announcements also can be sent to schoolnotes@vnews.com.